Every person who has experienced the goodness of God in the gospel desires to invite others into that goodness. Some Christians are wired in such a way that they aren’t fazed by awkwardness and don’t hesitate even for a second to bring Jesus up in conversation. The rest of us are a bit more timid but no less desirous to radiate Christ in our relationships and speak the gospel, even if uncomfortably, when we feel led. But regardless of our particular personality traits, the Holy Spirit has wired into all of our new natures a desire to proclaim the life-giving gospel over the “dead bones” of our lost friends (Ezekiel 37).
But can this good desire flesh out in not-so-good ways? Can our attitude and approach in our evangelistic efforts actually work against our evangelistic efforts? Can various modes of “truth-telling” create unnecessary offense in the hearts of our hearers? I already know what some of you are thinking—you were thinking it as soon as you read the title of this article: “the gospel is offensive!” Yeah, sure. It is offensive. You’ll get no pushback from me on that. But my question is this: can we communicate the gospel in such a way that we, not the gospel, are responsible for our unbelieving friends’ offense?
Yes. We can. And unfortunately, many of us do. I’m sure you can envision some zealous truth-telling friend of yours who seems to have zero awareness of how harsh they come off when they jerkishly speak about the gospel. I can; I think of myself—the Matt Moore of 2011, anyway.
I was an ambitious but unloving truth-telling twit for a solid couple of years after my conversion. I had never taken to balance very well, and the evangelistic efforts of my Christian infancy demonstrated that well. Truth forcefully tipped the scales while love and wisdom floated weightlessly in some place distant from my heart. I was a man on a mission, and my mission was to confront the godless heathen with the holiness of a good God who demanded their worship!
I ran to Facebook on a daily basis to ensure my lost friends were aware of the fiery torment that awaited their wicked souls if they didn’t turn to Jesus. I never said anything untrue, but my gosh—it may have been better to have said something untrue than to say true things the way I said them! I also took it upon myself to assume the role of theology cop, ruthlessly correcting all the unbiblical teaching I saw espoused by other Christians. When I was in the Arminian camp, I attacked the heretical claims of Calvinists. And then when I (ironically) embraced those “heretical” Calvinistic beliefs, I ceaselessly rebuked the man-centered views of Arminians.
My “evangelism” (what I now call my “antigospelism”) wasn’t limited to social media. I suspected some of my Christ-professing friends and family were not actually born again, which led to a number of contentious conversations. Though I still believe my suspicions were warranted and that a conversation needed to happen, I didn’t approach these people with the love and humility that such a conversation deserves. I ran at them with a prideful pointing finger, harshly accusing them of hypocrisy. Every single conversation ended with the other person angry and refusing to speak to me for months.
More mature Christians would approach me from time to time and plead with me to repent of the unloving attitude that was plaguing—and eclipsing—the truth I was sharing. They would call me out on the Christlessness of my sarcasm and snarkiness. Deeply offended by their accusations, I would assure these cowardly Christians that I was doing exactly what Jesus wanted me to do, and that maybe they needed to reignite their passion for the proclamation and preservation of biblical truth.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit eventually got ahold of my heart and revealed my sin to me. He showed me that my truth-telling wasn’t driven solely love for Jesus and others, but also by prideful desires to be right and make sure others knew that they were wrong. And because of this, I believe my proclamation of the truth often worked against the Holy Spirit rather than in sync with him. Instead of eyes being opened and hearts being softened by the truth of the gospel, eyes were darkened and hearts were hardened. I understand that the gospel, even when delivered in love, can be an “aroma of death” and have a hardening effect on the hearts of those who continue to reject it (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). But I can’t say with a good conscience that my snarky, sarcastic, and unnecessarily harsh demeanor played no part in that process.
Believers, it’s important we speak the truth—but the way we speak it is equally important. A genuine love for God and others must envelop every truthful word that comes out of our mouths. A desire to see God glorified and for others be enamored by his glory must undergird every Facebook status we write or real-time conversation we have. This doesn’t mean all our truth speaking should or will be soft and gentle; there were times that Jesus himself was necessarily sharp in his communication. But you’ll notice his holy anger was almost always geared toward the “religious” people whose corrupt attitudes and actions misrepresented the merciful nature of God. But with the morally wayward and those whose lives were destroyed by sin, Jesus was gentle. He was always serious, yet always kind. He truly fulfilled what was spoken of him centuries before: “He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” – Isaiah 42:2-3.
I beg you guys, don’t be like the Matt Moore of 2011. Don’t just be a vessel; be a useful vessel—one full of truth, compassion, and a longing to see others love the God of grace.